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The Village Library

When Bexley Public Library opened, the student newspaper, The Torch, reported that “the people of Bexley rejoiced to see a long-felt want supplied by the founding of a public library.” While this may seem like exaggeration, no library had been available to Bexley residents since its founding in 1908. Even though Columbus Public Library was nearby, a Bexley resident could only obtain a card with the co-signature of a Columbus property owner. Bexley eventually had a path forward to its own library with a new Ohio law in 1921 that allowed school districts to found public libraries. When the Bexley Board of Education founded Bexley Public Library in 1924, residents of the Village of Bexley, along with students and staff in Bexley schools and Capital University, finally attained free and open library access.

Photo captions:

  • The first library was in a room in Bexley High School, now Montrose Elementary School.
  • Bexley Schools Superintendent Henry Dieterich encouraged the Board of Education to found the library, and was a library trustee for many years. His wife wrote: “his interest in the library was so vast and so much a part of him that up until the very last he was thinking and planning for its future development.”

Early Start

From the start Bexley Public Library served the Village of Bexley and its public schools. The first librarian, Lillian Sabin (1924-1925) was a teacher in the high school and, “under her skillful hands a library grew as if by magic.” (The Torch, 30 October 1925) Branch libraries were maintained in each of the public-school buildings until 1971.

Photo captions:

  • Lillian Sabin was the first Head Librarian
  • Children’s Room Cassingham school library in 1934

A New Home

Once the library opened, it was a challenge to keep up with Bexley’s rapidly growing population. By 1927 the number of borrowers had increased by 59%, and voters approved a $68,000 bond issue for the construction of a new library building.  Capital University offered to lease the land on Main Street for free for 30 years, recognizing the library’s importance to its students. In 1929 Bexley Public Library  opened its bronze door to the new building. 

Photo captions:

  • The building was designed by architects O.C. Miller and R.R. Reeves, and inspired by 17th century French and Italian architecture.
  • Sarah Bilby was the first director in the new library building, serving from 1927-1956. She was the first director to serve longer than a year.

Continued Growth

The library became even more popular once it moved into its new home. According to Library Director Sarah Bilby’s report in 1927, the Bexley circulation per capita was 6.8 books, while the average small library was 5. The library was originally designed to hold 20,000 items, but the collection had grown more than twice that to 53,806 volumes by the time voters approved a $60,000 bond issue in 1945 for a new addition. The construction was delayed several years due to the war and shortage of building materials and labor, and costs increased, which led to a second bond issue for $50,000.  During the delay, the staff installed temporary wooden shelving  to support the growing collection. The addition was completed in 1950.

Photo captions (top to bottom):

  • The original building had the children’s area in the west and the adult reading room on the east side. The Children’s Room had a fireplace, and the Adult Reading Room led to an outdoor reading porch.
  • The front desk in 1929

New Services and Materials

In 1950, BPL started circulating its first audiovisual materials: 16mm educational films. In just two years the budget for audiovisuals exceeded the amount for books. 

Photo captions (top left and clockwise):

  • Flyer for the 1945 bond issue.
  • A projector (purchased by the Bexley Lions Club) loaned out to bed-bound patrons projected books onto the ceiling in 1948.
  • Audiovisual room in 1950.
  • The library grew throughout the mid-20th century, and use expanded further in 1934 when access to the library was available to patrons outside of Bexley. Voters approved a bond issue in 1945 for an addition, but construction was delayed due to materials and labor shortages during World War II. The staff had to temporarily install wooden shelving to support a growing collection as they waited for the addition.

Preserving the Past

Building the Future

In 1956, Mary Teeter Zimmerman became the new library director. It was under her leadership that the library truly transformed in a variety of ways. During her tenure she added new programs like Family Film Nights, Children’s Summer Book Club, and educational lectures for adults. Zimmerman also oversaw a building renovation and expansion that allowed BPL to offer more public space for studying and programming.

Photo captions (top to bottom):

  • The blueprint for the auditorium expansion.
  • Librarian NAME reading for a storytime in DATE
  • Mary T Zimmerman, director of BPL from 1956-date.

Service Expansion

Under Zimmerman's leadership, she added new programs like Family Film Nights, Children’s Summer Book Club, and educational lectures for adults. In 1959, BPL was one of the first libraries in Central Ohio to offer book delivery for the homebound. 1,534 books were delivered in 1962.  

Photo captions (top to bottom):

  • Mary Zimmerman with the storytime schedule in DATE.
  • Mother and Child, the work of sculptor and Ohio Wesleyan professor Ebb Haycock, was installed in front of the library in 1968, completing its new brick patio. It was commissioned by Judge Henry L. Scarlett in memory of his late son.
  • The bags BPL used for homebound delivery.

Raising the Roof for Readers

While the 1970s were a quiet time for the library, the 1980s-2000s ushered in another renovation and technological changes to modernize the library. Under Robert Stafford’s leadership (1981-2009), BPL added Sunday hours, and circulated vinyl records, VHS tapes, compact discs, and polaroid cameras, while also housing one of the largest reference collections in Franklin County. A renovation was completed in 1992 that updated the amenities and modernized the library. 

Photo captions (top to bottom):

  • Robert Stafford, director of BPL from 1981-2009.
  • Reference room (now browsing) with it's large reference collection.
  • Sketches for the 1991 renovation. 

Technological Change

The 1980s to the 2000s saw great technological change in the library. The first public computers were available in 1984, and the switch from card catalogs to electronic catalogs was complete by 1992.

Photo captions (top to bottom):

  • Screenshot of BPL's first website in 2000. 
  • Librarian and date
  • Public computers offered in the browsing room in DATE

The Modern Library

BPL underwent a transformation in 2009 when cuts in state library funding led to its first library levy. While it had a large reference section and stately elegance, community members were asking for updated services, like email access and more services for teens. Rachel Rubin was hired as the library director after the levy passed. Both she and her successor, Ben Heckman, worked to update library services, strengthen community partnerships, and make the library more responsive to community needs.

Photo Captions:

  • BPL joined the Central Ohio Library Consortium in 2015,  opening up access to millions of additional items.
  • In 2017 BPL acquired a book bike to pedal library resources and services all over the city. It was sponsored by the Gledhill Robbins & Talis Group- HER Realtors, and custom-built by Haley Tricycles in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • During Rachel Rubin’s tenure (2010-2017), BPL offered modern services like wireless internet, a computer lab, a Homework Help Center, Creation Station, and Teen Services, and expanded programming. She worked with staff to establish a fine free policy in 2017 to remove barriers to library access. 

Ben Heckman became BPL’s current library director in 2017. During his tenure, the library has maintained strong partnerships with the City of Bexley and community groups. By encouraging the open exchange of ideas, his leadership has guided the library to become more inclusive for both staff and patrons.

  • In 2021, the library expanded home delivery service to anyone in the 43209 zip code.
  • The library has worked to bring people together to talk about social justice, from programs like Safe Conversations about Race (2017), to partnering with the City of Bexley and Bexley City Schools on the social justice initiative, One Bexley.
  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, BPL moved programming online, including storytime. In 2021, BPL began live streaming and recording  in-person programs and we continue to offer it as “BPL Television” on YouTube.

Bexley’s Young Learners 

Serving the youth of the community has been a central part of Bexley Public Library’s mission from the beginning. The library serves children’s lives through all stages of development. As early as 1928, BPL hired a librarian trained in children’s services in order to support early childhood education and offer storytimes.  Over the years librarians have helped foster reading habits and interests. R.L Stine, for instance, credits a BPL librarian for helping him discover Ray Bradbury: “Ray Bradbury turned me into a reader, and that librarian really, really, changed my life.”

Photo captions from the top left running clockwise:

  • Miss Marilyn during a storytime in the newly refurbished playspace in 2016.
  • Children’s programming was relocated to Jeffrey Mansion during a renovation and a bus transported the children between the mansion and the library in 1991.
  • The first Summer Reading Program in 1958.
  • Stevens as Max at storytime in 1980.

A Cultural Center Available to the Community 

BPL has always offered programs and services in addition to books, and they have changed over the years to meet community needs. Each change to the library building has been prompted by the need for more space for activities beyond checking out books, like storytimes, community meetings, and educational programs. The library was the place to register for victory garden plots in the 1940s, rent videos in the 1980s, and attend programs about the eclipses in 2017 and 2024. During the Covid-19 pandemic we adjusted our services to enlighten, engage, and inspire safely. We continue to adjust our services to meet our ever-changing community and world.

  • The Bexley Community Author Series, previously a program of the Bexley Education Foundation, became a Bexley Public Library program starting in 2017, with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead.
  • In 1943, the library was a place where Bexley residents could register for victory garden plots and receive gardening advice from the Bexley Garden Club. Today we have a seed library where you can select free seeds for your garden.
  • BPL gave out 1,000 free eclipse glasses to the community in 2017, and we’ll distribute twice as many in 2024. 
  • The popular music program, Tea at Three, started in 1993. This tradition continues today with the help of the Samuel C. and Gale M. Shamansky Fund.